What is considered “old?” There are individual differences between pets, just as there are for people. While one person may act, look and feel “old” at fifty-five, another fifty-five-year-old remains active with a youthful attitude and appearance.
Aging is influenced by a combination of genetics, environment, and health care over a lifetime. The oldest dog on record was an Australian Cattle Dog who lived for twenty-nine years and five months.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of her life. However, we can’t accurately predict what an individual pet’s life span will be, so pinpointing when old age begins is tough. Ask the breeder about the life span of your pet’s parents and grandparents. That’s a good predictor of how long you could expect your cat or dog to live. Mixed-ancestry pets are more difficult to predict, but you can make a few generalities.
In the past fifty years, the average life span of small dogs has tripled. They used to live to be only six or seven years old, but today it’s not unusual for your Chihuahua to live into late teens or early twenties. With an average potential life span of fifteen to seventeen years, onset of old age—when a little dog becomes “senior”—would be about age eleven to thirteen.
Even large-breed dogs, which age more quickly, commonly reach ten to thirteen years of age—double the life span of the past few decades. They would therefore be considered old starting at about seven years.
Giant breed dogs (those weighing over eight pounds or so) tend to age earlier than smaller pets. Great Danes, for example, are considered “senior” at age five, and typically live only seven to nine years. There are exceptions, of course, with some very large dogs living healthy, happy lives well into their teens.
So you have an old fogey doggy–how do you keep him youthful? What happens when that go-go-go puppy attitude turns into a yen for snoozing the day away? Dogs can become frustrated when their youthful abilities fade away and they’re no longer able to leap tall buildings–or onto sofas–with a single bound, or chase the Frisbee and catch it without effort.
I have one word for you: ACCOMMODATION.
Enrich the dog’s environment and make accommodations for his new skill set. Agility dogs can still perform all those tricks of fetch and vault, just lower the bar a bit. For blind dogs, put a bell inside the ball or scent with liverwurst so his nose knows where to find it.
Today’s Ask Amy strikes close to home because my Magical-Dawg is a fetching fool. Currently he’s in his prime and has no problem chasing and leaping until his tongue drags the ground. But since this is Magic’s all-time-favorite-of-them-all (excluding car rides!), I know that FETCH will be a game that helps keep him young even when he’s an old fogey.
Do you have a fetching fool? What about your old dogs–what games do they love? Have you made accommodations for their aging abilities? Please share!
This month as a special “thank you” to all my furry-fantastic-followers, I’ll give away a paw-tographed copy of Complete Care for Your Aging Cat and Complete Care for Your Aging Dog. To get in the running, simply post a comment in the blog about your special pet (old fogey or not) and I’ll draw two names at the end of the month. You can use these award-winning updated books as a resource for yourself or wrap up for a pet-friendly holiday gift to a fur-loving friend. And as an EXTRA-special incentive–and to encourage all of y’all to mentor each other and spread the blogging/twitter/Facebook love–the two winners get to name one purr-son who gives them wags of support and deserves a book, too!
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